Au Revoir, Paris – or, Committing to Your Talents

by Lisa Rothstein on 07/17/2010

my-paris-officeI didn’t plan to write this post. It’s only marginally about creativity or managing one’s time as a DaVinci. But it’s all I can think about right now. It’s pretty personal, but I have the idea it can be instructive to fellow multi-talented people. So please bear with me.

I’m in the midst of selling a property in Paris. I have many reasons to be glad about this; I bought at a great time in the market in 2002. The first person to look at it offered my higher-than-I-thought-possible asking price without blinking. I can stop dealing with high-maintenance vacation renters and the French electric and cable companies at 3AM, and the battered euro is on its way back up.

But I have trouble staving off tears, and I fail at this a few times a day. I lived in Paris for 12 years, the most creative time of my life so far. It was where I finally left a full-time career in advertising and wrote my first screenplay. Where I learned to paint watercolors, had art shows, painted professionally and taught classes. It was where I sang with choirs from Notre Dame to Disneyland. It was where almost all my friends were other creative people — journalists, musicians, artists. When I bought that apartment, it was so I’d always have a home in that city. Even the apartment itself was my own creative endeavor – I’d knocked down walls, picked out new tile and decorated it with my own artwork and that of my friends.

But things change. At the behest of my new agent, I came back the the US to try my hand seriously in movies and TV. I got married, and travelling back for visits became more cumbersome. Renting the apartment out in between became a time-and-energy-consuming part-time job. My husband and I began to eye the money it would bring to be able to buy a bigger place at today’s relative bargain prices, so the two of us work-from-home-entrepreneurs could have our space. Finally, recently the government in Paris made it illegal to offer apartments as short-term vacation rentals, so I became a fugitive from justice. That was the coup de grace. I gritted my teeth and put my treasure up for sale.

What I’m discovering is that I’m mourning the loss of an idea. I haven’t been back to Paris for three years and had no plans to go anytime soon. But it was always there, taking up real estate in the back of my mind and forming a part of my identity. And I’m realizing that it’s siphoned off some of the commitment and focus I need for the real creative endeavors I have before me now. It’s been a constant — if  impractical– Plan B.

The truth is, having a phantom creative life in Paris has been a way for me to avoid commitment, to feel my eggs are not all in one basket here. Like many DaVincis, I really hate and fear that one basket. Because having more than one not only guarantees the variety I crave, but it’s a secret insurance policy or an advance consolation prize against failure. I always had one mental and emotional foot out the door, when I need to be jumping in with both feet into what I’m doing now.

As DaVincis, we have so many talents and possibilites, and that’s a part of our identity. Choosing is tough and so we try desperately to keep our options open. But I want you to consider: could you be allowing your many ideas, dreams and options (all mental abstractions rather than realities) distract you as a way of resisting giving your all to a certain REAL creative project – the one that really matters to you — because you’re afraid you might fail? Do you have a Plan B, C, Q and Z in order to avoid commitment to anything? Be honest.

Now Plan A is all there is. And while I’m still sad and afraid to let go of the past…I’m also beginning to get excited. I’m looking forward and making plans. Seeing the new and real possibilities right here in front of me. I’m getting the idea that a 100% real life — win or lose — is going to be more interesting and juicy than an alternate fantasy life 6000 miles away.

Question: Where are you clinging to “faraway” ideas to avoid getting down to brass tacks on a real project that matters to you today? Where are you allowing your attention and emotions to be scattered, because commitment is too scary?

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